How important is priority boarding on domestic, international flights?

How important is priority boarding on domestic, international flights?

TALKING POINT | Priority boarding is one of the many perks offered to business class passengers and top-tier frequent flyers. But it's not always well-executed by the airlines, and tends to be of varying use depending on if you're making a domestic or international flight.

Indeed, we often hear from many readers that – depending on the airline and the airport – they've all but given up on priority boarding.

Australian Business Traveller journalists and very frequent flyers Chris Chamberlin and Brandon Loo compare thoughts on their own priority boarding preferences and experiences.

Brandon: “When it comes to domestic flights I'm early in the priority boarding line."

"Being based in Launceston I'll occasionally take a weekend trip to Melbourne or Sydney with just hand luggage. These flights are quite often jam-packed in both directions and I appreciate being able to get on early, put my bags away and just settle down with my Kindle and headphones (plus a glass of sparkling wine if I'm in the pointy end!)."

Chris: "I’m personally more of a ‘sit down and take off’ kind of traveller, and particularly on domestic journeys, I’d rather not spend any more time on the plane than I have to! I prefer to remain in the lounge a little longer – finishing off my coffee or whatever I’m working on, before heading to the gate once most people are already on board."

Brandon: "That might be the case if Launceston had a lounge which I can access! But I tend to fly with Virgin Australia and there's no lounge for me. Launceston Airport is very compact so it's easy to arrive half an hour before departure with a mobile boarding pass, breeze through security and be ready to board within minutes."

"In Melbourne or Sydney, I might leave the lounge just before they call the flight so I'm at the gate when they start boarding."

Chris: "But when boarding begins, don't you often find a line-up inside the aerobridge itself? Not that this bothers me too much – if I’ll be sitting down for the next couple of hours, extra time on my feet is certainly welcome – but it can be frustrating all the same."

Brandon: "As a Velocity frequent flyer with status I've found the priority boarding experience to be quite consistent overall. Sitting on the plane a bit longer doesn't bother me since the flights are so short anyway, and I just feel calmer once I've settled into my seat rather than waiting in the gate area."

Chris: "My biggest gripe about early boarding is if I'm sitting in an aisle seat. Board early and you’re almost certain to be whacked by passengers’ bags, especially backpacks – and as most of my domestic flights are day trips where I’ll have a laptop bag at most, overhead locker space isn’t normally a concern."

Brandon: "What about priority boarding on international flights? I know you do a lot more of those than me!"

Chris: "This is where priority boarding is much more important, particularly with larger aircraft such as the Airbus A380 where there can be 400-600 other passengers on the same flight."

"Rather than the ‘board last’ approach I usually take for domestic flights, if I’m flying business class, boarding early allows me to get settled – usually with a nice glass of Champagne – while I peruse the menu, send any last-minute texts or emails, and store my belongings around the seat."

Brandon: "Agreed. When boarding is going to take a long time it's nice to get on early and unwind, check out what movies I'll catch up on and see if there's some interesting food on the menu!"

Chris: "It's one of those little delights before take off, isn't it? Settle into your seat, have a drink and start checking out the menu! It's a time when you realise life's not too bad..."

Over to you, AusBT readers: how important is priority boarding for your journeys, and for those who use it, should airlines do a better job at checking who’s in the queue?

 

57 comments

  • PERflyer

    PERflyer

    28 Jun, 2019 09:26 am

    Priority boarding often on Qantas there is more in the premium queue than the standard queue with so many Platinum these days. It’s more of a fight for locker space to get on ASAP it seems especially on the 737’s. If dual bridge boarding on domestic like on 330’s to Perth etc it can be a nicer experience of course with no line up in the bridge.
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  • Anna80

    Anna80

    28 Jun, 2019 09:32 am

    A really good article! If it's a little Boeing 737 between Sydney and Melbourne or Brisbane I sometimes find the non-priority queue to be a lot shorter, although not always faster because the frequent flyers are better organised than casual flyers. Domestic A330s and international flights, Qantas does priority boarding very well, but I prefer to stay in the lounge and be among the last to board if in business class because there won't be any issues with claiming overhead luggage space, and I'd rather spend 10 minutes relaxing in the lounge than sitting in the seat as economy passengers shuffle past me.
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  • David Robertson

    David Robertson

    28 Jun, 2019 09:34 am

    Tip: ask at the lounge how long it'll take to walk to your gate. This helps you assess when to leave the lounge, regardless of if you like to squeeze out every last minute of lounging time or board early.
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  • Explorer12

    Explorer12

    28 Jun, 2019 11:57 am

    Careful I did this once and almost missed my flight!!!
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  • Becky1

    Becky1

    28 Jun, 2019 09:34 am

    If i’m in economy, then I am with Brandon. Get on, avoid the queue in the aerobridge, get my carry on in the overhead bin, and wait for everybody else. This applies to both domestic and international.

    For business class, depends upon aircraft type. For B737, as above. For larger aircraft, eg A330, A380, B747, B789, then I tend to wait and board last, although this is not a hard and fast rule.

    For First Class, i play it by ear. If the masses are crowding around the boarding area, i just wait, if there’s a clear path to the gate, then i go for it.
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  • Tristan

    tris06

    28 Jun, 2019 08:06 pm

    The only good thing with early boarding is getting my carry on luggage to be close above where I am sitting. Especially when the flight is busy I feel a little annoyed if my carry on needs to go down more than a few metres along the plane. In those cases I will need to wait for everyone to leave the plane on arrival as it usually is a rush out of the plane.
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  • D747

    D747

    28 Jun, 2019 09:37 am

    I believe it is very important.
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  • MELflyer

    MELflyer

    28 Jun, 2019 09:39 am

    For economy I'll definitely get in the priority line so I can 'claim' my overhead bin space, get settled, and then pop in my noise-cancelling headphones and just look out the window (I'm a window seat guy) and zone out with music for the next 10-15 minutes.

    In business class it depends on the lounge sometimes. As a Qantas Platinum I'd rather relax in the Qantas First lounge over my last glass of nice red or Champagne, pop into the loo and then make my way to the gate, I'm usually among the last to board although I make sure I don't ever keep them waiting.
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  • X

    X

    28 Jun, 2019 09:48 am

    For me, it's more about the location (and aircraft type). If I am in Japan for example, I will board last. I know there will be plenty of locker space, and I don't have to spend longer onboard to ensure my bag has space.

    In the USA, I am ready at the gate and boarding as early as possible!
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    BatteryBen

  • QFP1

    QFP1

    28 Jun, 2019 09:52 am

    Mainly for international flights, I used to be a "leave the lounge last" guy, and at the QF F lounge or The Pier can you blame me? But lately I find myself quite happy to wander to the gate earlier and use business class or Platinum priority boarding to be among the first to board and settle into my seat, take a breather and do some simple meditation-type exercises. I find this a really relaxing way to start the actual flight. It usually also means I can change into my pyjamas early instead of when there's a queue after take-off.
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  • David Townley

    townaz

    28 Jun, 2019 09:54 am

    Priority boarding is very important for both domestic and international flights especially when travelling with hand luggage only to ensure you can secure overhead locker space close to your seat.

    Additionally, for international overnight flights I like to board early and get changed into pyjamas prior to take off to avoid the lavatory queues once airborne.
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  • jenko13

    jenko13

    28 Jun, 2019 09:59 am

    domestic priority boarding in Australia is woeful, Virgin are miles ahead of Qantas who have the worst I have ever seen, American airlines do it much better were they call each group forward one at a time, it works reasonably well after you fight thru the waiting crowd, southwest is even a better than QF on there 737s. If there is only one door open then most of the time it means nothing on QF, however at least VA use both front and rear doors.

    International is better run generally although it very much depends on the airline, I remember when Tiger first starting flying to Darwin and seating was open, everyone actually ran down the boarding corridor in Singapore to get the best seats!

    At the end of the day everyone gets on the same metal tube and gets off at the same location.
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  • opusman

    opusman

    28 Jun, 2019 10:30 am

    Can you please explain this "priority boarding" concept for those of us who fly Qantas domestic?
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  • Dredgy

    Dredgy

    28 Jun, 2019 10:39 am

    I’ve never considered it a perk, I’ve always thought it was some warped marketing to get people onto the plane quicker wrapped up as an advantage. Priority disembarkation, now that would be a perk.

    Don’t use priority boarding it all on domestic, international depends - sometimes I misjudge the walk between the lounge and the plane and show up early.
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    Pete8686

  • reeves35

    reeves35

    28 Jun, 2019 10:49 am

    Boarding is a perennial issue. Airlines need good policies and need to enforce them or not bother so everyone knows it's a free-for-all.

    Much of the angst with priority boarding stems from over-generous or unenforced cabin baggage allowances which means there is a battle for overhead storage. US domestic airlines deserve special mention here for being truly hopeless in policing limits.

    Some airlines are better than others. I've found VA and CX never shy to send people back to the end of the queue because they are trying to board out of turn. QF are quite terrible at it. I flew out of SIN last week and despite announcing only Business, Platinums and Golds should board, everyone was just waved through and it was complete chaos.

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  • Craig

    crwilkins

    28 Jun, 2019 11:20 am

    If traveling international business class doesn’t really bring me any value, I either check luggage or if carry on finding space is never an issue. Flying economy or domestic business though with carry on is very different, I highly value the priority boarding as I don’t want to be that guy walking the plane opening every overhead locker trying to find a place for my bag.
    Although overall probably more value in airlines figuring out how to actually deliver priority baggage first
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  • gluewell

    gluewell

    28 Jun, 2019 11:32 am

    I find priority boarding much more useful on US airlines, simply because they overhead compartments get full so quickly. Group 1 means my bag will be right next to me, instead of halfway down the airplane (meaning delays in deplaning) or worse, having to check it in when boarding.
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  • Kevin Cheung

    Kevin Cheung

    28 Jun, 2019 11:48 am

    How important is priority boarding to me? Very important, especially when I'm in economy on domestic US flights. Makes a massive difference. International flights, not much of an issue if there is boarding through separate doors such as on the A380 or a Boeing 777, with one door dedicated to business and first, but in economy then yes, it's very welcome. Who does it well? Virgin manages domestic priority boarding so much better than Qantas, which always makes me wonder how hard can it be to actually do it right? Not hard!
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  • simon drakeley

    drsimon50

    28 Jun, 2019 01:39 pm

    I like to be on early to settle in and relax as I find the whole boarding process stressful with so much pushing and rushing - especially domestic - I mainly fly international in business or first and it’s then I really like to be on first to relax read the menu and have a drink and it’s generally easier obviously with bigger planes and more air bridges
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  • moa999

    moa999

    28 Jun, 2019 02:30 pm

    Also find gate design helps.

    Virgin in Sydney is very good with sides that surround the regular queue, and priority outside.

    Qantas on the other hand is very inconsistent with use of signs and queues, albeit probably has more elites.
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  • Chun Wah Dou

    Pallydou

    28 Jun, 2019 02:31 pm

    Don't really care priority boarding if you are taking international and business class. If you are on domestic, be careful of your overhead cabin space.
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  • thelongroad

    thelongroad

    28 Jun, 2019 02:55 pm

    It's important for domestic if you're flying economy (which is 95% of my flying), just to snag bin space. An added bonus that it's generally slightly more orderly and pleasant than main boarding.

    International for me it's probably less important, though I was very grateful once for it when flying back from HKG on a fully loaded A380.

    Best experience I had was flying Suites on SQ, regrettably out of SIN with security at the gates it's not as nice as it could be, but they do have an entire dedicated bridge just for the max 12 people in Suites. And at the stop in FRA it was absolutely heavenly, a dedicated lane and bridge, board any time you like without a moment's delay, clear jetway and a welcome smile on board.
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  • highflyer

    highflyer

    28 Jun, 2019 03:02 pm

    Chris / Brandon, have you ever been able to approach Qantas and Virgin and ask them why there is such a big difference in the priority boarding process at different airports?
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  • Robert Bird

    PG1

    28 Jun, 2019 03:04 pm

    Harking back to what "perks" a P1/P should receive for their hard-earned status ........ I could see a separate P1/P priority entrance then Gold-QC and standard queues.

    Little touches like that would go a long way ... esp in domestic rush hour !
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  • Otto Van De Velde

    OttoV

    28 Jun, 2019 03:05 pm

    My biggest gripe is queuing at a check in and flying internationally ( Europe) the endless queues going into security are the pits which make a nonsense of priority of any kind. At least in the USA, the pre approval from the TSA is akin to a genuine priority. Aside from those prior to the gate hassles, if flying J it never is a worry unless in the States with their endless groupings after ‘serving ‘ personnel.
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  • pungpui

    pungpui

    28 Jun, 2019 03:07 pm

    I also find domestic budget flights particularly bad as people try and cram as much carry on to avoid check in bag costs - backpackers vs business people with say just a laptop bag.
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  • DGB

    DGB

    28 Jun, 2019 03:08 pm

    Agree with most comments above. I have tried traveling out of "peak" times where possible and I find that works a lot better. What does irk me is when I am onboard early, the amount of people who place their overhead luggage at the front end of the plane and then continue down to their seat often many rows back. I don't fly business class as much anymore but still have my status and I see it a lot in smaller aircraft.Maybe a turn right/left option would possibly help with the flow? Many times on smaller aircraft I have found myself walking through first/business where there probably was no need to? I understand aircraft shapes/door configurations change but surely this could be factored in as airports grow? I have gone back to using a window seat as the "back pack whack" is getting worse when in the aisle seat.
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  • Lindsay Wilson

    QF WP

    28 Jun, 2019 03:13 pm

    I'm similar to Becky above and Brandon - if I'm in Economy, then I want to get onboard earlier (being Gold, the Priority Boarding lane is a God-send). I use that quicker access and extra time to ensure that I can stow my larger carry-on in the overhead bin. More often than not, my outbound flight is in the morning, so I choose a window seat. I'd rather be first into the row than having to expect/wait for people to get up so I can climb on in.

    If I'm in Business, then it's less of an issue but the same factors are still in play. At least on Virgin, I know there will be space for my bag in the overhead lockers.
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  • Jannine Holland

    Neannie

    28 Jun, 2019 03:37 pm

    I take advantage of priority boarding most times I fly. Especially if I have a carry on bag. That way you "should" be guaranteed space above or very close to your seat. On a recent Virgin flight from Hobart to Brisbane, a passenger (who I presumed was going to sit in the seat next to me) put his large carry on bag in the compartment above my row of seats and then kept walking to almost the back of the plane? I thought staff would have said something but they didn't which surprised me.
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  • GoPies

    GoPies

    28 Jun, 2019 03:44 pm

    International Business Class and First Boarding is well regulated. Domestic is a joke. In five flights over last fortnight with Qantas, there has been absolutely no regulating of the two lines. The Business Class Line is usually longer than the Economy line, it would be better to do away with it if not enforced as it only makes pax annoyed. Recently in Europe both Lufthansa and Aegean had Priority Boarding and enforced it.
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  • LYN WOODS

    clipped_wings

    28 Jun, 2019 04:06 pm

    Here's the crux of the Priority Boarding debate: If you're going to advertise it as a perk - you have to at least attempt to deliver it! PB is blazoned as an enticing benefit across nearly every airline frequent flyer program, yet it remains one of the most underrated experiences. Conversely, when it is strictly enforced, we all breathe and express our appreciation on the forums. So I guess it matters.
    I love hopping on a plane before the masses. I love sitting in my seat and watching the world walk by, regardless of what class I am in. I guess I am still in love with flying and regard it as an experience to be grateful for, when so many others have never even stepped on a plane.
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  • Sparksy

    Sparksy

    28 Jun, 2019 04:22 pm

    Most of my domestic flights are in economy unless that points upgrade to business comes through, so I make full use of priority boarding as a Gold frequent flyer although sometimes I find the non-priority line shorter.

    I think Qantas needs to manage this process a bit better.

    1. Call business class passengers and CL members

    2. Then call Platinum Ones

    3. Then call Platinums

    4. Then open it up for Golds to join the priority boarding line and everybody else to start at the normal line.

    Member who gave thanks

    DGB

  • QFP1

    QFP1

    28 Jun, 2019 04:24 pm

    100% agree! This would make much more sense!
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  • reeves35

    reeves35

    28 Jun, 2019 05:15 pm

    Don't you need to add Defence personnel and veterans?? ;)
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  • oldfolky

    oldfolky

    30 Jun, 2019 03:45 pm

    This is the American style
    Of doing things and it is terrible. I just caused a massive scrum at the gate and makes the entire boarding process incredibly slow.
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  • Tallfont

    Tallfont

    28 Jun, 2019 04:24 pm

    I recently took a BA trip from London to Dublin and return. I was surprised at how efficient the boarding was with a zone marked on the boarding pass.
    I seem to recall being as we were in Business we were zone 1 and boarded first. I am guessing that zone 2 was the rear most seats in the aircraft (A321) followed on by other zones moving forward.
    Now, if only Qantas could introduce something like that it would be wonderful. The total farce of boarding on QF domestic flights is ridiculous.
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  • Andyyc

    Andyyc

    28 Jun, 2019 04:25 pm

    Priority boarding is effective as long as the airlines enforce their rules. To that end the gates at BA terminal 5 are organised into the separate groups and the BA staff will only let higher groups board after the lower groups lines have been largely reduced. Having said that there is generally no organisation on the return flights on BA from the continent back to Heathrow and they will board people as long they got to the boarding area first.

    Boarding early ensures that you do not have ‘fight’ for overhead storage space. This is a serious issue for those airlines who charge for checked in luggage but do not enforce their carry on rules. The most amusing episode was boarding on a BA flight was slightly delayed because they ran out of overhead storage space in business class. No surprises that most of those in business class spoke with American accent.
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  • traveller90

    traveller90

    28 Jun, 2019 04:48 pm

    As has been voiced previously, I agree most premium passengers prefer to board departing aircraft last, whether it be domestic or international to shorten the time on board and the last thing they wish to be is in a seat longer than needed.

    Thus dump the privilege, make boarding straight forward for all, rather than broadcasting a long list of who and when, which in some cases confuses the majority of one time flyers, and replace the perk with another more useful. Simple!

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  • Saab34

    Saab34

    28 Jun, 2019 05:48 pm

    Virgin invested in the PB product as a while so that’s probably why it works. They even ran TV commercials spruikingvthe product and designed its Sydney Pier with dedicated lanes.

    QF just wacked up some poles and just hoped for the best.
     
    VA’s Sydney setup isn’t quite working, as most people queue in the wrong lane but I do note staff telling people to go to the other line. 
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  • WP_fornow

    WP_fornow

    28 Jun, 2019 06:01 pm

    It's a must when travelling Coach in the US. Otherwise you'll either have to check your luggage or have it under the seat in front
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  • BatteryBen

    BatteryBen

    28 Jun, 2019 06:36 pm

    Qantas (especially Domestic) need to copy AA’s model. Works beautifully.
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  • bsb

    bsb

    28 Jun, 2019 07:00 pm

    Domestic QF Priority is kind of pointless but as I prefer an exit row I need all bags up so I get going as soon as the lounge calls the flight. This way my bags are usually close to me. Overseas some airlines are full on about dealing with priority AA and BA come to mind. But for the best show in town, watch the queue behaviour in India. Love it, but try not to compete or risk injury.
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  • Howard

    BigH

    28 Jun, 2019 08:24 pm

    If luggage space is guaranteed, I'd like to get on as late as possible, Otherwise, I'd head to the priority line early-ish...
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  • Doublecatered Johnston

    doublecatered

    28 Jun, 2019 08:47 pm

    There is no point boarding Chairman's/ Plat etc first.. they are still in the lounge and don't arrive till the end of boarding.
    Flight attendants at Qantas man the boarding stations... They don't want to tell half the customers they see to go to the back of the other line as they have to serve them on board. At Virgin, airport staff do the boarding on the whole so they have no qualms sending people back.
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  • GregXL

    GregXL

    28 Jun, 2019 08:58 pm

    VA economy X includes priority boarding, but this is not shown on the signs at the gates (see the photo on this article) and is not mentioned in announcements. I prefer to board early rather than hang around in the terminal incensed I have got to the gate.
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  • ivanb52

    ivanb52

    28 Jun, 2019 09:41 pm

    Interesting experience recently on TAP Portugal on flights from/to US.
    As we had no status we expected to be in the general boarding call, but after the families, premium cabin and higher status customers, the next group invited were those not dragging wheelie bags. There even a separate lane at the gate.
    So with our backpacks we wandered on, got our bags into the overhead bins and waited for the rest.
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  • Rod Harmer

    Rod H

    29 Jun, 2019 07:50 am

    Recently I was in the Priority lane ,full fare J class with VA in Melbourne waiting for the boarding call for the Perth Flight. There were quite a few people in the line and the staff then called " Business Class " passengers to Board. Naturally all of the Gold , Plat passengers etc surged forward only to be told that unless they actually had a Business Class ticket they had to wait. Some were vocally upset by this and said so quite loudly. As I walked past them I stopped and asked them how much they actually paid either in points or cash for their ticket. I then mentioned that didn't they think a full fare paying passenger should have any priority over them, and they all were very silent.

    The Priority Lane is really well worth it when flying Business Class and for those Plat. Gold who choose to fly in Economy then you should have to wait until the full J fares board.

    It's a great system when it is applied properly.

    Member who gave thanks

    DGB

  • Clancy

    Clancy

    29 Jun, 2019 09:26 am

    Domestic with only computer bag - nil

    Domestic with additional carry on - a race...

    International - nil

    But all the above depends on what seat you are in... ;)

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  • Denny Flyer

    OWF

    29 Jun, 2019 09:57 am

    Not that important.
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  • Bruce Dale

    Nalanji

    29 Jun, 2019 02:07 pm

    I qualify for priority lanes, but often in capital cities I go to the non-priority lane as it’s shorter.

    My preference would be to board by row number only. Once in Cairns I saw a full Jetstar Boeing 787 boarded in 10 minutes. It was a Japanese school group. The teachers lined the pupils by row number from back to front.
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  • Aidan

    Aidan

    29 Jun, 2019 02:20 pm

    Wow amazingly organised teachers. That forward planning leads to less stress for everyone.
    There is a few great videos on airplane boarding on YouTube.
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  • Dan Ho

    djtech

    30 Jun, 2019 06:59 pm

    The issue seems to be both a lack of knowledge from the public on what exact time to borad and the unwillingness of crew to refuse those not eligible. If both of these things are done better, priority boarding would be a better benefit.
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  • Michael63

    Metoo

    30 Jun, 2019 08:39 pm

    Certain airlines do it better than others. Priority boarding international means you should be at the gate at the time of boarding. That being said, if you are sipping your champagne in the lounge and wander to the gate then you will need to weave your way through the long Economy line until you see daylight at the Business of First lane. Then walk through to the plane. To me Priority Boarding is more about having the shorter queue than getting on first on major long haul flights. Shorter international flights are a mixed bag.
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  • anonymous

    anonymous

    30 Jun, 2019 10:30 pm

    I think that the benefit of having overhead space is overstated by the above comments. I have rarely missed out on bin space over the years regardless of when I board. The times that I do miss out happens so infrequently that there is no need to change my boarding habits because of it.
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  • Jason Dutton-Smith

    jds747400

    1 Jul, 2019 03:19 pm

    Australia is not so bad on the "overcrowded overhead bin space", but, as someone who recently relocated to the States, it's a major issue here and a serious dog fight to find any room for even a smaller backpack on the majority of flights. So I find priority boarding is a blessing, perhaps necessity, here!
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  • John

    akronflyer

    2 Jul, 2019 04:11 pm

    In Hong Kong the PB lane had about 60 status holding Passengers
    lining up for a flight on a 330
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  • Mikana

    Mikana

    3 Jul, 2019 04:08 pm

    I don’t often fly domestically and when I do, I usually fly in coach. I fly long haul a fair bit and it’s all business class tickets paid out of my bank account. If I’m paying $4000 to $10,000 for my ticket, I expect relatively unharried and unobstructed access to my seat, early or late, any time within the boarding time frame really. I get quite snarky if I do not get it. My pet peeve is airlines that board coach through business class. NZ is especially bad about this on its widebodies out of Auckland. Koru Club encourages you to board early then you sit there with your feet in the aisle while coach files past interminably, replete with glares and remarks like, “I hate these business class seats.” Ugh.
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21 Jul, 2019 12:54 pm

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